…and Hello 2021!

Many years ago, when I lived in Cardiff, there was an annual free music festival held on the lawn in front of City Hall. It probably still happens, I have no idea, since I’ve not lived there for almost as long as I did live there.

Spread over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you’d find a real mish-mash of bands playing. Some up and coming – I saw Super Furry Animals there for the first time back in 1996 – and, to give you some idea of the rich tapestry of acts who performed, The Spice Girls and Pato Banton were also on the bill that year. I know, you’re jealous, right?

Generally, there would be one evening of current music; one of acts with genuine cultural significance, and one slightly cheesy, 80s-centric night. If I tell you that over the years, I saw Chas’n’Dave, Ray Davies, Gene, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and The Proclaimers there (other acts to appear include The Lightning Seeds, Catatonia, The Zutons and Camera Obscura) you’ll get the idea. Bands either on their way up, on their way back down again, or so highly revered that they would light up any night.

The weekend would generally be over-run by lads from The Valleys, agog at city life. You might not know it, but this is exactly what this song is about:

One year, Llŷr and I (and a bunch of friends) gathered together one Friday night to watch the legend that is Howard Jones perform.

Yes. That Howard Jones.

Like me, I’m sure you can maybe remember two or three of his hits from his brief time at the front of British pop music. But this night stayed in mine and Llŷr’s memory for a long time afterwards, for two reasons.

Firstly, because he played a keytar. You know, one of these:

Held like a guitar, played like a keyboard, is there anything which embodies 80s music as succinctly as this?

Secondly, Jones introduced his backing band, and, before announcing their name, he described what turned out to be (another) keyboard player as “on music manipulation!”

Llŷr and I found this hilarious, and from that moment on, whenever at a gig where a band was being introduced, or where we were watching something which just seemed so pompous, so over-blown by its own self-importance, one of us would bellow: “And now…on music manipulation…..!”

As with many of our in-jokes, nobody else would have the slightest clue as to why we were falling about laughing.

Anyway, as the curtain rises on what will hopefully be a better year than the last, this – with Howard on music manipulation! – seems appropriate:

It was this or some Labour politicians singing along to D:Ream. Shush.

Happy New Year to you all. Truly, more than any other year, I hope this is better than the last for us all.

More soon.

Same Title, Different Song

Did you ever have one of those conversations where you suddenly felt very old?

Let me give you an example.

Shortly after I started working for an insurance company in Cardiff, about 20 years ago now, I found myself as an Acting Team Leader on the Teleclaims section; “Acting” because the actual Team Leader had gone on long term sick, and they didn’t want to actually promote me in her absence because that would have meant paying me more.

The Teleclaims section was the first point of contact should you ever need to make a claim. Or, if you wanted to find out what was going on with your claim. In the latter case, it was an unwritten rule that you should never bother the person actually dealing with the claim. I was rather good at this; I’d have a quick read of the file whilst the caller was on hold, then call the handler, ask them if I was right about where I thought the claim was at, then reassure them I wasn’t going to put the caller through, I’d get rid of them myself. 9 times out of 10  I’d be successful, and I quickly got myself a reputation as “the bloke who never makes handlers talk to customers.” My popularity burgeoned.

It was for this reason, I think, that I found the title of Acting Team Leader foisted upon me. But now my job had changed; now I spent most of my time shouting at people to answer the phones rather than actually answering them myself, or, quite often, taking complaint calls and politely explaining to the caller why they were wrong.

See, I’m not really management material. But on the occasions when I’ve found myself in vaguely managerial positions throughout my working life, I’ve been a firm believer in leading by example. Don’t ask others to do things you aren’t prepared to do yourself, is my motto. In fact, one job I did ended rather abruptly, shortly after I confronted a manager who had told me to “Do as I say, not as I do,” and I told him he was a twat.

So when I was an Assistant Supervisor at Boots (check me out with all my not-quite-boss credentials), I felt awkward telling other people slightly further down the food chain than I to jump on the tills when it was busy, so I’d often do it myself. Then there could be no arguments when I did tell someone to do it. Plus, I got to have a nice sit down.

Anyway, back to the insurance company. It’s busy, and I decide to answer a few calls, one of which involves a policyholder whose name is Paul Newman.

Call completed, I, of course, cannot resist making a comment about having just spoken to Paul Newman to the folks around me. Not a particularly funny comment, I’ll grant you (although that was definitely the intent) but one which I thought would gain a reaction from somebody.

Instead, I was met with blank looks.

“Y’know. Paul Newman.”

More blank looks.

“The actor. The very famous actor,” I semi-pleaded.

A bale of hay blows through.

“Makes salad dressing…..?” I offered.

A wave of recognition.

And that’s how you know when you’re getting old. When somebody you know for doing the main thing they’re famous for is known by young people for doing something less significant. I now refer to it as “having a Paul Newman moment.”

To apply this to a musical setting: a few years later, I’m still working for the same company, but I’ve progressed. I now deal with potentially expensive claims, where people (say that) they’ve been injured in an accident with someone we insure. I find myself sitting next to a lad who has been transferred from a different office. Usual in-between work banter occurs, and it transpires we have a lot in common in terms of musical taste. (Later nights out would reveal that he also rather liked taking pills; needless to say, we got on very well. Also needless to say, for the very same reason, I’m not going to mention his real name.)

Steve. Let’s call him Steve.

In one of our we-really-should-be-working-but-nobody’s-checking-what-we’re-doing chats, Steve revealed that he really liked The Automatic, a somewhat perfunctory Welsh indie band, best remembered for their single Monster. Credit where credit’s due, though: our conversation took place before they’d had any hits (if indeed their hit count extends into plurals). But he had one gripe with the band: he hated the additional vocals which Alex Pennie often provided, finding them obtrusive and annoying.

“A bit like Einar from The Sugarcubes, then?” I offered.

Cue the blank looks from “Steve”.

“You know. Einar. From the Sugarcubes.”

More blank looks.

“Used to pop up in the middle of every Sugarcubes song, and just start shouting pseudo-avant garde nonsense?”

Is it me, or is it getting warm in here?

Turns out, in musical terms, you know you’re old when you know the name of somebody in The Sugarcubes who wasn’t Bjork. And some of their records.

Like this one:

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The Sugarcubes – Hit

And, making a second appearance in as many posts, here’s a different song with the same title:

the-wannadies-hit-indolent

The Wannadies – Hit

And just to tie things up neatly, here’s a song by The Automatic which isn’t Monster and which isn’t the best example of a song which features Pennie’s irritating backing vocals. It is, however, a song about a sandwich shop in Cardiff, and I rather like it for that at least: R-1056600-1188654629_jpeg

The Automatic – Raoul

More soon (football permitting).